Blind and Free-Range

Hi Readers — This is an inspiring column by Peter White, an English broadcaster who’s blind. It reminds me that our job as parents is to believe in our kids — to believe they can rise to a challenge.

On the road (and as I film my reality show), I hear from a lot of parents who think it is dangerous to let their kids do anything on their own — walk to school, babysit, take a bus, you name it — because they might get hurt or frustrated. I hope that some of those parents read this essay, because here’s what happens when we DO say (heart in throat): “Go for it, honey.”  We pick up where Mr. White is recalling how his mom let him learn how to ride a bike:

I didn’t understand it then, but I know now it took great courage for her to do what she did. The interesting thing is that the special blind boarding schools to which we were sent were equally uninhibited. At my secondary school in Worcester we were positively encouraged – no, actually forced – to go out alone, or accompanied only by another blind friend. The 4 o’clock walk was compulsory: nobody asked where you were going, or whether you had the skills to get there. And when things went wrong, the school faced them with almost unbelievable sang-froid. When I was 12, I had a road accident. My parents were informed of this in a terse letter: “Peter has had a slight brush with a lorry. No serious harm done.”

After this incident, a few half-hearted rules were introduced about who should be allowed to wander about unsupervised, but they were quickly abandoned. Nothing interfered with the custom of Founder’s Day, where every pupil was given five shillings, and sent out for the day – a kind of ultimate 4 o’clock walk. I once managed to hitchhike the 200 or so miles home to Winchester and back. Returning to school just after midnight, I received a mild reprimand, and congratulations for having had the initiative to enlist the help of the police in getting my last, after-dark lift. But I was far from the boldest. The school bred adventurers, roaming the city and beyond. There were always a handful with girlfriends, off to parties and pubs, clambering back into school at night up drainpipes and through windows.

It’s hardly surprising that, growing up in this environment, the world held few terrors for us.

Only one word besides “blind” occurs to me to describe those kids and ironically it’s this: Lucky. — L.